Despite a high price, the Garmin Forerunner 265 is one of the best running watches you can buy. It offers excellent tracking and coaching features, a lovely bright OLED display and multi-day battery life.
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Recently, Garmin has risen to the top of the running watch game, taking it above rivals such as Polar, Suunto, and Apple. The Forerunner 265 cements its place there – it’s a superlative running watch that nails both the basics and more advanced on-wrist tracking features.
It’s a tad expensive, though, and it lacks some nice-to-have features for the price, including such as mapping. But all things considered, this is probably the best running watch you can buy for under $500/£500 (at the time of writing).
Design and build
I reviewed the larger 46mm Forerunner 265, which is quite similar in design to the Forerunner 255. There’s also a smaller 42mm Forerunner 265S.
The main difference is the 255 series had a readable but more basic, non-touch memory-in-pixel screen (MIP), whereas the 265 watches have touchscreen AMOLED screens. This is partly why the 265 costs $449.99/£429.99, considerably more than the $349.99/£299.99 255 that has very similar specs and features.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
Comparisons aside, the Foreunner 265 is a plain but pretty lightweight watch. Even the 46mm version isn’t gargantuan, and I found it comfortable to wear all day and night to track workouts and sleep. In that regard, it’s better than the comparatively bulky Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic.
I prefer the silicone strap and traditional buckle here than the pin and nubbin popularised by the Apple Watch, plus the straps are standard quick release 22mm (18mm for the 265S) for you to swap out with Garmin straps or otherwise.
Though there’s a great, vibrant touchscreen, the watch still has Garmin’s usual five physical buttons, too. I like the protruding button on the top right that has ‘RUN’ embossed onto it in big white lettering. Get on with it, the watch implores.
That screen is bold and bright and looks great in colour. It’s much more responsive than the laggy one on the Polar Ignite 3.
The underside houses the heart rate and blood oxygen sensors, next to the proprietary charging port. And the watch is rated 5ATM for water resistance at up to 50m depth.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
Health and fitness tracking
Designed for running, cycling and swimming
Heart rate and blood oxygen sensors
Very accurate GPS
Some fitness watches spread themselves too thin with tracking, or worse, pretend they can track specific niche workouts such as fencing, badminton, or archery. Really, that’s just a way to categorise your workouts, but the watches just track basic metrics such as heart rate.
Garmin doesn’t mess you about with all that. The Forerunner 265 is so named because it is first and foremost a running watch, and that’s what it is best in class at, but it does have specific modes for HIIT (high intensity interval training), yoga and pilates.
Starting a workout is as easy as pressing that RUN button and then choosing run, track run, treadmill, or hike (by default). Based on your recent usage and set fitness goals, the watch will give you a personalised workout suggestion, such as run 5.5km in 30 minutes.
You can skip the suggestion, but it’s part of why the 265 is so good – it’s devilishly simple but provides clear and useful coaching without a software subscription. Fitbit, Apple, Whoop, and others hide features behind a paywall. Not Garmin.
There’s a ton of neat software features too. The health snapshot is a two-minute test that captures your average heart rate, blood oxygen, respiration, stress rating, and heart rate variability.
The morning report is also helpful – wear the watch at night and when you wake, the first thing it’ll take you through is how you slept, your calendar for the day, weather, a suggested workout, and optionally cycle tracking, among other metrics. It’s a thoughtful addition.
Once worn for a few days straight, the excellent Garmin Connect app gives you a training readiness score to help you decide whether to hit the road or put your feet up.
This extends similarly to performance condition results on your wrist mid-run, that analyse your pace and heart rate and let you know how hard you should push. It reinforces how the watch can be a coach, not just a data collector. It’s a shame at this price that there’s no mapping software, though, so you can’t see where you’ve been.
There are tons of watch faces pre-loaded, and you can download more from the Garmin Connect IQ store. I also kept the always-on display turned on, and there’s a decent amount of information shown depending on what watch face you choose.
I’ve tested a great many fitness and tracking watches, but the Forerunner 265 is my favourite of the lot in how it collects data and presents me with it later in useful ways.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
Smartwatch features and software
Music for offline listening
Garmin Pay not great in UK
I opted to turn off most the smartwatch features of the 265 and use it solely as a fitness watch, but the likes of notifications from your phone are there if you want them. The 265 is fully compatible with iPhone and Android – you just need to download the Garmin Connect app.
More useful to me is being able to download Spotify songs onto the watch’s 8GB memory for listening via Bluetooth headphones. It means you can leave your phone at home and still have tunes to work out with.
It’s quite confusing to set up, but once complete, it did work well. There’s also Deezer and Amazon Music support, but Apple Music and YouTube Music fans are out of luck.
Garmin Pay is built in so you can make mobile payments via NFC, but it supports so few common UK banks that I couldn’t test it. If you use Revolut you’re golden, but Monzo and all major legacy banks aren’t on board yet. See the full list on the Garmin website.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
The software here is the same as on other Garmin watches, but it looks prettier thanks to the bright AMOLED screen. You can easy scroll through metrics such as training readiness, heart rate, notifications, weather and music controls with buttons or via touch.
It’s very responsive and I came across no lag whatsoever. This is rare on any smartwatch, let alone custom fitness watch software. Colour me impressed. It makes diving into data so much more accessible, fun and useful.
Battery life and charging
Up to 13 days battery life
20 hours of constant GPS use
Charges via USB-C cable
Garmin rates battery life at 13 days in full smartwatch mode, which I used most of the time. You’d only hit this figure if you were lounging on the beach, though.
With GPS used, I regularly got about five days of constant use, which is still miles ahead of the Apple Watch Ultra but much less than the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar. If you’re planning on a marathon or triathlon, you’ll be OK too, with up to 20 hours of constant GPS use promised.
Funnily, the smaller 265S that I haven’t tested is actually rated for 15 days and 24 hours respectively, because the AMOLED screen on the larger model uses more power. Usually, larger screens also mean larger batteries and therefore battery life, but not here.
If you want the same features with better battery life, look for a Garmin Forerunner 255 without an MIP screen.
There’s a USB-C cable in the box with Garmin’s proprietary charger on the other end, and charging takes a couple of hours from dead. There’s no Qi wireless charging.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
Price and availability
The Garmin Forerunner 265 costs $449.99/£429.99 for the larger 46mm version. That’s the same price as the 42mm Forerunner 265S, which has the same features.
It’s much more expensive than the Forerunner 255 and 255S (both $349.99/£299.99), which have most of the same features but an MIP screen rather than OLED. If you don’t need touchscreen, you’ll save a lot of money.
The Polar Pacer is an excellent cheaper alternative at $199.95/£169.50, but it lacks the finesse and feature set of the Forerunner 265. If you really want your watch to also be a great smartwatch, you could go for the Apple Watch SE that starts at $249/£219, but it only has around one day of battery life and less advanced fitness features.
The Garmin Forerunner 265 is a little pricey, but it’s my favourite running watch yet. It takes all the best, most essential features from Garmin’s best tracking devices and distils them into an easy to use yet advanced watch that lasts several days on a charge and is comfortable to wear 24/7.
The new, brighter AMOLED screen is partly why it costs more, and battery life isn’t as good as older models, but unless you’re on a two week expedition and can afford it, the trade-off is worth it. The big, bright, always-on screen is a pleasure to look at and adds touch controls alongside the familiar buttons.
Add to that offline music playback, top tier GPS tracking, and Garmin’s excellent Connect app (that requires no subscription yet can coach you into a running routine) and you’ve one of the best running watches on the market.
Henry is Tech Advisor’s Phones Editor, ensuring he and the team covers and reviews every smartphone worth knowing about for readers and viewers all over the world. He spends a lot of time moving between different handsets and shouting at WhatsApp to support multiple devices at once.